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Review: Japandroids, 'Near To The Wild Heart Of Life'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Japandroids: <em>Near To The Wild Heart Of Life</em>
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Japandroids: Near To The Wild Heart Of Life

Rock 'n' roll so often boils down to simple pursuits: the search for love, sex, escape, revenge, satisfaction, or some signifier of freedom and home. But for Brian King and David Prowse of Japandroids, that central pursuit is often majesty itself. Listen to the Vancouver duo's 2012 masterpiece Celebration Rock — one of the most appropriately titled albums of all time — and you'll hear song after song fixated on a bone-deep intention to feel more, stay raw, let rip, and "yell like hell to the heavens." A natural resistance to aging and decline provides plenty of subtext, but really, the band specializes in anthems about the power and the glory of simply feeling alive.

Japandroids' new album is titled Near To The Wild Heart Of Life, so those themes remain in full effect from the opening drum fills of the title track. But the themes here are a bit more expansive: Released four and a half years after Celebration Rock, these eight songs are clearly the product of reflection, upheaval and the soul-searching that so often comes with travel and time off. The concept of home springs up repeatedly in Near To The Wild Heart Of Life's first two songs, as the title track details a need to leave ("And it got me all fired up / to go far away") and "North East West South" paints a lovingly patriotic, riff-rocking picture of Canada and its gravitational pull.

Elsewhere on Near To The Wild Heart Of Life, King and Prowse let their sound meander a bit more than usual, as "Arc Of Bar" sprawls out for seven and a half minutes, while the slow-building "True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will" weighs the imagined majesty of the unknown against the long-sought comfort of contentment. If Celebration Rock was two guys' way of romanticizing the messiness of a dramatic past — real and rediscovered — then Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is its natural sequel, re-envisioning youth as a passageway to a new and better place.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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